This month, the Los Angeles City Council voted to ban the sale of fur coats, following a similar policy in San Francisco that took effect in January. A bill now before the California legislature would extend the ban statewide, and the New York City Council is considering a citywide ban. These bans, which are driven by animal rights activists, would set a startling precedent by allowing special interests to impose lifestyle choices on others.
What’s at stake here isn’t just flashy coats worn by rappers during the Super Bowl halftime show — but whether people are free to choose what to wear and eat, and even whether they can own a pet.
Animal rights activists have long campaigned against fur, arguing that it is unethical. While they are certainly entitled to their views, Americans have listened — and largely disagreed. According to a 2017 Gallup poll, 57 percent of Americans think it is moral to buy and wear animal fur, essentially unmoved since 2001.
Activists, however, have been able to convince ideologically sympathetic legislators that no one should be allowed to buy fur. A Los Angeles councilman who championed the ban said that no economic analysis showing harm to local businesses would change his mind on a “philosophical issue.” In other words, the city council seeks to legislate morality, regardless of the cost.
And the moral crusade does not stop at winter coats.
The well-known animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which is leading the lobbying, is against any kind of clothing that comes from animals: leather, sheep’s wool, cashmere, and even silk. If New York and California agree with banning fur as a “philosophical issue,” there’s no reason they can’t ban leather or wool on the same grounds.
The same logic could be extended to dictate what people can’t eat — namely, any meat, dairy, or eggs — since vegan food is available as an alternative. In fact, California has already started down this path.
Starting in 2015, California banned the sale of conventionally produced eggs. A measure passed by voters in November will ban the sale of conventionally raised pork — which is most pork — starting in 2022. Egg prices shot up following the 2015 law, and it’s likely that the price of sausage and bacon will spike as well. These artificial price hikes hurt lower-income consumers the most.
It doesn’t stop at food and clothes, either. PETA is against zoos and aquariums. It’s against pet ownership. It’s against medical research that uses animals—even if it would cure AIDS, according to PETA’s president.
And they view stopping these things as a moral crusade. As a PETA executive once remarked, eating meat “is not your personal decision, any more than whether somebody beats their child is their personal decision.”
Most people would disagree with this sentiment. The vast majority of the public also supports using animals for food, clothing, education, medical research, or companionship. At the same time, the vast majority of the public cares about animal welfare.
Instead of legislating morality, a better system is to give people information and let them make their own choices.
Issues can be quite complicated. For instance, in “cage-free” egg facilities, hens have more room to move around. But according to researchers, they also experience higher injury rates and mortality rates (think of the phrase “pecking order”).
Or consider clothing. A ban on real fur or leather would cause clothing retailers to use synthetic fabrics, which are typically made from plastic. Given the ongoing problem with plastic pollution in the oceans and the fact that synthetic fibers could take 500 years to biodegrade, is forcing more plastic use something the government should be doing?
In recent years, more companies in various sectors are employing third-party certification for animal welfare. There are accreditation and certification programs for zoos and aquariums, livestock farms, and other institutions that use animals. These programs can help the public navigate complex issues.
But ultimately, these are decisions best left to individuals. If the government starts taking the side of vegan animal activists on fur, it will quickly cascade into many quarters of our lives.